Anti-Taliban alliance and former king agree to plan for selecting new Afghan leader
ROME (AP) – The anti-Taliban alliance in northern Afghanistan and the former Afghan king agreed Monday to convene an emergency council of tribal and military leaders as a first step toward forming a new system of government in their country. The Taliban’s leader predicted the effort would fail.
The council, or loya jirga, they envision would consist of 120 people chosen from the opposition northern alliance as well as different provinces and ethnic groups, said Abdul Sattar Sirat, a senior adviser to former King Mohammad Zahir Shah.
The announcement, which came after three days of talks in Rome between Zahir Shah and a half-dozen northern alliance representatives, was seen as a possible opening for an alternative Afghan government if the ruling Taliban militia is toppled as a result of U.S. strikes to retaliate for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Opponents of the Taliban have called for convening such a council, considered by Afghans to be one of the few broadly accepted means of finding a representative government.
Monday’s announcement left the door open for the Taliban to take part in the council, which would be held in Afghanistan soon.
But the Taliban’s leader wasted no time in denouncing the move.
In a broadcast on Taliban-run Kabul radio and monitored in the Pakistani capital, Mullah Mohammed Omar said the efforts to bring the ex-king into an alliance with opposition forces was destined to fail.
”They want to impose the Zahir Shah regime on us,” Omar said, referring to the Americans. ”God willing, I’m sure America cannot do that.”
A representative of the northern alliance in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, praised the agreement.
”The temporary differences between the northern alliance and Mohammad Zahir Shah … have been settled,” said Muhamad Salekh Registani, the military attache of the opposition alliance’s embassy in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.
The loya jirga had been a centuries-old institution in Afghanistan. However, traditionally only the king could call such a council meeting. The former king was overthrown in 1973 by a cousin with the help of the communists.
Many influential Afghans who are not associated with the northern alliance would like to see a council convened. The ex-king’s role would be limited to convening the council.
However, joining with the northern alliance could tarnish his image as a unifying figure above politics. Many figures in the alliance were discredited in Afghanistan because of the chaos that swept the country when they ruled following the collapse of the leftist government in 1992.
Councils convened during Marxist rule were not widely accepted as valid by Afghans, and the Taliban have rejected any loya jirga called by anyone, including the king, who lives in a luxurious gated community north of Rome.
The United States is exploring ways to help opponents of the Taliban, which rules most of Afghanistan and refuses U.S. demands to turn over Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and his lieutenants.
President Bush has approved plans to help groups opposing the Taliban with an eye toward establishing an Afghanistan that is ”peaceful and does not practice terrorism.”
”The Taliban do not represent the Afghan people, who never elected or chose the Taliban faction. We do not want to choose who rules Afghanistan, but we will assist those who seek a peaceful, economically developing Afghanistan free of terrorism,” according to a policy document put together by the State Department and the National Security Council and obtained by The Associated Press.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer declined to say which groups within Afghanistan would receive U.S. support, but said the Bush administration is not interested in putting any particular government in power.
Mohammed Younus Qanooni, the head of a delegation of northern alliance commanders, said the decision to join forces with the former monarch was ”the start of a new era for the Afghans to bring unity to the country.”
Sirat, the king’s adviser, said ”the door of the council is open to all,” and he predicted that with the king’s support, the new Supreme Council for National Unity for Afghanistan would command legitimacy that the Taliban could not ignore.
The Taliban are competing with the ex-king’s supporters for influence among the tribes in southern and southeastern Afghanistan. On Monday, the ruling militia announced a power-sharing arrangement with tribes in three southern provinces apparently designed to counter the former king’s initiative.
The line of succession for the 86-year-old former monarch wasn’t clear. He has six children, four of whom live near him outside Rome. However, most observers have looked to his 37-year-old grandson, Mostapha, as a possible successor.
Mostapha has served as Zahir Shah’s chief spokesman in the recent flurry of activity. He has also been one of the key liaisons with the Northern Alliance commanders.
Mostapha, who lived for several years in Canada, speaks fluent English and Italian as well as his native tongue. He left Afghanistan 27 years ago and said in a recent interview with reporters that ”it’s time to go home.”
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